Use Abbreviations In Your Search

 Tip – Use Abbreviations in Your Search

In old newspapers, abbreviations were used to save space. Abbreviations were used to shorten many words – the most notable being given names as well as addresses.

Remember that your search criteria is just a series of letters that are matched against a search index that was created from the scan and OCR process applied to the subject newspaper page.

Your search index database is not smart enough, for example, to interpret “ave.” for the word “avenue.”  So, if you are entering “335 14th Avenue” – if the search index includes “Ave” the search will not be successful.  Therefore you must search both “335 14th Avenue” and “335 14th Ave” to get all possible results.

Here are some examples of abbreviations that you should employ in your search criteria:

  • For street names, try “ave” and “avenue” Also “st” and “street”. There is a great number of others that you should consider for the “type” of “street.
  • For cities, if there is an abbreviation – for example NYC for New York City, or Philly for Philadelphia, try the abbreviation as well as the whole city name.
  • How about business names – “co” and “company”, “inc” and Incorporated”, etc.
  • Given names can provide a great number of increased results by using abbreviations.  Try abbreviations for names, such as “Wm” for William, or “Jno” for John, “Jos” for Joseph, “Geo” for George, “Chas” for Charles, “Robt” for Robert, “My” for Mary, “Eliz” for Elizabeth, “Barb” for Barbara – just to name a few.
  • One often forgotten is “Mrs.” Remember that married women were not always addressed with their first name in a newspaper article, but were written as Mrs. Robert Smith for example, regardless if her given name was Mildred, Margaret, or Mary.  So, incorporate that into your search criteria.
  • This one is a bit unique.  But if you are searching classified ads, you can always search for a phone number. We certainly don’t know the phone numbers from many 20th century ancestors, but if you happen to find it in a telephone directory, you might find classified ads in newspapers by searching that phone number. When I was a kid, our number was Elgin 1-1696, so I would search for “Elgin” as well as “El” before the numbers.
  • For military titles, try “Capt” for Captain, “Col” for “Colonel”, Sgt” for Sergeant, etc.
  • States in the U.S. did not always have two letter abbreviations. Older newspapers used Calif. For California, Minn. For Minnesota, Fla. For Florida, Colo. for Colorado, Mass. For Massachusetts. So try using these abbreviations when seeking a location.

There may be many others, so you need to search for abbreviated words as well as entire words to maximize your search results.  My guess is that you can increase your pertinent results by as much as 10%.